VALLEY FORGE, Pa. — During these trying times, AmerisourceBergen Corp. continues to play a vital role feeding the health care supply chain and, through its global pharmaceutical health care businesses, helping combat the ongoing spread of COVID-19.
Rich Tremonte, executive vice president and president of community and specialty pharmacy at AmerisourceBergen, says that, like every industry, the pharmaceutical supply chain has had to adjust to these unprecedented circumstances. “We are proud of the resiliency of the supply chain and our collective efforts with manufacturers and suppliers to protect it. In March, when the coronavirus was declared a pandemic, we saw surge ordering across all classes of trade. As manufacturers navigated global restrictions, they began allocating inventory to distributors like AmerisourceBergen on a long-term basis. Additionally, we saw an increased demand for experimental treatments and products that had any semblance to supporting COVID patients.”
He adds that while certain products are still in critical demand, the company has seen broad demand level off in recent weeks. “At AmerisourceBergen, we always want to be a part of the solution, so we will continue to monitor inventory levels and customer purchasing behavior for any potential impact to the product supply chain moving forward. As we acclimate to this new normal, consistent and transparent communication has helped us stay connected to our colleagues, suppliers and customers.”
He points that out that, more broadly, COVID-19 has led to a heightened level of consumer awareness of the supply chain. “Continued media coverage and a renewed focus on chronic health concerns have encouraged everyone to see the supply chain in a new light and care more deeply about access to medications. This pandemic has truly underscored the importance of a safe, secure supply chain.”
Tremonte notes that testing at drive-through pharmacies has brought the pharmacist to the forefront. “Now more than ever, COVID-19 has put a spotlight on the importance of community pharmacies. The recent guidance from the federal government, which authorizes licensed pharmacists to order and administer COVID-19 tests, including serology tests, demonstrates just how valuable pharmacists are in our current fight against COVID-19. This pandemic has revealed that the accessibility, knowledge and skills of our nation’s independent pharmacists are incredible assets to our health care system, but they are often underutilized. As health systems and primary care providers are spread thin during this challenging time, we have an opportunity to leverage pharmacies’ trusted positions within their communities to remove some of that pressure and give more patients access to high-quality care. We commend the recent public health policies that support the expanded role of the pharmacist.”
He adds that from a distribution perspective, AmerisourceBergen is being extremely diligent in its efforts to source safe, credible products for its pharmacy customers. In the absence of a Food and Drug Administration-approved COVID-19 test, he notes that the company will continue to support pharmacies in scaling their businesses to prepare for widespread testing as it becomes available.
“The accessibility of community pharmacies is particularly important for rural and hard-to-reach populations, especially as hospital closures and physician shortages continue to put a strain on the availability of health services in these areas. That said, approximately 90% of Americans live within five miles of a community pharmacy, according to NACDS [National Association of Chain Drug Stores] research, and many people in rural areas leverage their pharmacy as their primary source of care.”
He says that as the country begins to reopen, community pharmacies’ ability to provide consistent care, as well as COVID testing, will play an essential role in reducing the spread of infections in these areas.
Tremonte points out that the company has gone to great lengths to protect associates, customers and the patients they serve.
“We’ve implemented heightened protocols across the board to protect our frontline associates, our customers and the patients they serve. Our distribution centers are conducting consistent health checks for associates and using powerful EPA-approved disinfectants through electrostatic sprayers and standard spray canisters for two to three additional cleanings per day. We are also regularly bringing in third-party organizations for deep-cleaning procedures during off hours,” he says. “Additionally, we have put enhanced protocols in place to protect our courier partners and customers’ health, including guidelines for no-contact deliveries where appropriate,” he adds.
Tremonte says the nation’s pharmacies have stepped up in a critical way during this crisis, so ensuring their viability has never been more important than it is right now. “To support them, federal legislators should act now to eliminate all direct and indirect remuneration (DIR) fees, which can cause delays and uncertainty in reimbursement. AmerisourceBergen has always been an active advocate for our pharmacy partners, and we’re committed to ensuring the pharmacy perspective is represented on Capitol Hill. In fact, earlier in May, we united with over 240 stakeholders on a letter that urges Congress to act on DIR reform.”
“As the country continues to navigate COVID-19, pharmacists have a critical role in helping patients manage their care, and we must allow them to practice at the top of their license,” he concludes.